Have you ever had someone say to you “just think positive,” “look on the bright side,” or “don’t dwell on the negative.”? I know that I have. And although the person who said this to you was most likely well-intentioned, statements like these can leave us feeling guilty or ashamed for experiencing negative emotions and can prevent us from addressing and resolving underlying problems.
These are just a few examples of a term that I want to talk about that affects us all and it is called toxic positivity.
Today I am going to share what toxic positivity actually is, how to recognize it, and also how to avoid it.
So let’s dig in!
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity refers to the practice of maintaining an overly optimistic attitude, even in difficult or challenging situations. This is the idea that we should always be positive, no matter what. But the truth is, this kind of thinking can be incredibly harmful.
It can be seen as a way of ignoring negative emotions and sweeping problems under the rug which can really damage our mental health and our relationships.
How To Recognize It
Recognizing toxic positivity and learning to acknowledge and validate a full range of emotions, including the negative ones, can be beneficial for mental health and well-being.
Signs of toxic positivity include:
- Constantly insisting that everything is “fine” or “good” in the face of adversity. Also, making light of a situation or minimizing its impact, even when it’s causing you significant stress or pain. These are signs that you may not be dealing with the reality of the situation and you may be hiding or burying your true feelings. This is very common, especially among women. We tend to put on our happy faces in fear of being judged if we show vulnerability or we feel pressure to keep up our appearance and maintain a certain image. This kind of behavior can be a way of avoiding difficult emotions and it can also be harmful by preventing you from processing and coping with the situation. This can lead to a build-up of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Acknowledging and processing our true feelings and emotions is an important part of personal growth.
- Ignoring or dismissing valid negative emotions and experiences. I see this often and it saddens me. If you’re brushing off your own sadness or anger or telling others to do the same, that can be harmful. This type of thinking invalidates or minimizes the reality of difficult situations and emotions, and can lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Saying to ourselves “just snap out of it” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself” are two common examples. This kind of self-talk can actually dismiss the validity of your feelings and discourage you from exploring or expressing your emotions. Another example could be when you share your problems with a friend and they respond with dismissive comments such as “it’s not that bad” or “just let it go,” rather than taking the time to listen and offer support. These kinds of comments can cause you to feel like you can’t be open and honest about your feelings, which can lead to a lack of emotional intimacy in the relationship.
In both of these cases, the negative emotions are not acknowledged or validated, and the person experiencing them may feel unsupported or invalidated.
It is worth noting that dismissing or ignoring negative emotions can happen unconsciously, so it’s important to be aware of our own reactions and responses to others and to practice empathy and understanding.
By acknowledging our own and others’ negative emotions, it helps to validate and normalize these emotions which can make negative emotions feel less overwhelming and easier to manage. This can also help build your resilience and the capacity to cope with difficult situations.
- Feeling guilty or ashamed for experiencing negative emotions. To provide more clarity on this issue, I want to share some examples that may resonate with you, as I have personally experienced all of them at some point in my life. For example, feeling guilty for feeling sad or depressed when others are going through worse situations, or being ashamed for feeling angry or resentful when someone has done something hurtful or unfair. Another example is feeling guilty for feeling anxious or stressed when others seem to be handling similar situations with ease or feeling guilty for feeling overwhelmed or exhausted when others appear to have it all together. This is very common among women. Additionally, feeling ashamed for feeling lonely or isolated when surrounded by people who seem to have fulfilling social lives, or feeling guilty or ashamed for crying or expressing sadness in fear of being perceived as weak or ungrateful. These examples show how easy it is to feel guilty or ashamed for experiencing normal and healthy negative emotions. However, such feelings can lead to self-criticism, and lack of self-compassion, and can prevent you from understanding and managing your emotions in a healthy way. It’s important to remember that negative emotions are normal and a part of life, and acknowledging them is really important for personal growth and well-being.
How To Avoid It
Toxic positivity is a common issue that can have negative consequences on our emotional well-being and our ability to cope with difficult situations. However, by learning how to avoid it, you can be better equipped to resolve problems and find healthy coping methods.
Let’s explore some practical strategies that you can use to avoid toxic positivity.
- Acknowledge and validate your own emotions: Recognize and accept your emotions, rather than suppressing them. This allows you to take a pause and understand your emotions, rather than trying to ignore them. This helps provide you with an opportunity to address and work through your problems.
- Practice self-compassion: Give yourself permission to feel negative emotions and be kind and understanding towards yourself. Talk to yourself as you would a loved one who is feeling the same emotions. Provide yourself with the comfort and support that you may be needing at that moment.
- Encourage open and honest communication: Practice offering a listening ear and support when needed, especially during challenging times.
- Practice empathy: Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, rather than dismissing or disregarding them. A couple of ways you can show someone empathy and support are by saying “It’s okay to feel upset, let’s talk about it” or “I’m here for you, let’s work through this together”.
- Be mindful of your words: Be aware of the language that you use when you are addressing negative thoughts or emotions, whether they are your own or someone else’s. Avoid using phrases like “Just be positive” or “Don’t dwell on the negative” and instead use words that are encouraging and supportive. An example of this may be “I understand that this is a difficult situation, and I am here to support you in any way that I can” or “It’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. How can I help you work through this”?
- Find healthy ways to cope: It’s important to come up with a few realistic strategies to help you manage your emotions, such as exercise, yoga, journaling, meditating, or talking to a friend or a professional.
Toxic positivity can have a negative impact on our emotional well-being and our ability to cope with difficult situations. By understanding the concept of toxic positivity and how it manifests, we can learn to recognize and avoid it. Also, It’s important to remember that it’s okay to not be okay and to allow ourselves and others to process and feel their emotions in a healthy way. Overcoming toxic positivity is a process, but by being conscious of the way we communicate and the way we act, we can choose to adopt a healthier approach to dealing with life’s challenges.
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